It’s been a long road for Dan Lambert and his Kelowna Rockets.
More than nine months, 96 games and with more than a few bumps along the way, the ultimate reward awaits on Sunday in Quebec City.
In the last hockey event ever to be staged at the storied Colisée Pepsi, the WHL champs will face off against the Oshawa Generals for the Memorial Cup championship.
“You start the season, gosh it feels like three years ago now, but it was 10 months and your goal was to get to the Memorial Cup,” said Lambert, in his rookie season as the Rockets’ head coach. “Now we’re here, the goal is to win it.
“You start the CHL with 60 teams and now there’s two left. We’ve given ourselves an opportunity and that’s all we can ask for.”
In the Generals, the Rockets will see a shutdown, defensive-minded team which edged Kelowna 2-1 last Tuesday in the final round robin game for both teams.
Lambert said the Rockets will need to be a different team Sunday than the one that managed just 21 shots on goal the first time around.
“We know what we’re up against, a team that’s extremely well-coached and disciplined, it should be a very exciting match,” said Lambert. “They don’t give a whole lot of room, not much time and space. And what did we learn, it’s not going to be easy. We’re going to have to bring our A game and we’re going to have to have 20 guys bring their A games and that’s the only chance of having success.”
After two previous 50-win regular seasons and back-to-back playoff disappointments each time —including last year’s Western Conference final loss to Portland—the Rockets had only one goal in mind for 2014-2015.
Lambert said there’s has been no greater motivator for the Rockets than past failures.
“As soon as I got this job I actually contacted every one of our players and we had a 57-win season last year and my question to them was where did we fall short,” said Lambert.
“And everyone of the single returning guys felt that they had one goal in mind this year and the trades that we made were very significant but even that took a little time. I think it’s fair to say every returning player their goal was to get into that championship game and have success at it.”
Asked what a Memorial Cup would mean to both the city of Kelowna and Rockets organization, Lambert said it would be nice to learn the answer on Sunday night.
“From what I understand, the city of Kelowna is rocking right now, the bars have been full for the games, the atmosphere is pretty amazing from what I understand.
“But for this organization to have this chance this is huge. The Hamilton family takes a lot of pride of the product on the ice and the way the organization runs. I’m thrilled for them that we’re in this position.”
Lambert’s Rockets and the Oshawa Generals will face off at 4 p.m Pacific time in Quebec City.